7/31/15

EXCLUSIVE CHAPTER PROLOGUE + ONE: MY BIGGEST MISTAKE BY LEDDY HARPER!!

Title: My Biggest Mistake
Author: Leddy Harper
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW!!

SYNOPSIS:
Edie had spent her whole life planning her future, imagining her husband, her kids, and even which minivan she’d drive. Lucky for her, she didn’t have to wait long, marrying her high school sweetheart right after graduation.
All of Edie’s dreams had come true, until they were no longer her dreams. Unable to deal with the lingering depression caused by having children, she left her whole life behind, walking away from the one thing she'd always wanted.
Donovan Leery loved his wife with everything he had and could never imagine life without her. Until he came home from work one day and found a letter from Edie, explaining she needed a break. Not only leaving him to live his life without her, but alone to raise their three small children.
But what happens when Edie is ready to come home? When she’s ready to fight for it all back? She knew it wouldn’t be easy. But she didn’t care. After spending years getting her life back together, she was ready to fight for her family. And a fight is what Donovan would give her.
She'd fight to make up for her Biggest Mistake.
PURCHASE HERE:
 Prologue

When you’re young, you always think about how life will be when you grow up. What you’ll do for a living, what your Prince Charming will be like, the kind of house you’ll live in. I know that when I was young, I had everything planned out.
I’d sit in the backseat of my mom’s car and look at the scenery as we passed. I’d watch the people walk by and imagine doing that myself, walking the streets of the city with my husband and children. I’d spot a minivan next to us at a stoplight and picture myself driving one, taking my kids to school or to soccer practice. I’d see a man in a suit and tie and think that one day, my husband would look just like that.
And it pretty much happened just as I’d pictured it. I had married my high school sweetheart six months after graduation. I worked part time and helped him with his schoolwork at nights when I was home. I loved to do his laundry, cook his meals, and see him off in the mornings as he left for his college classes. His friends used to joke that I was the perfect wife. And I was. I had loved every moment of it.
Weeks before the end of his final year of college, we welcomed our first child, a beautiful and healthy baby girl. She was the sweetest thing in the world and I doted on her hand and foot. Nothing was ever good enough for my princess except my love. My life was perfect—Donovan was about to graduate and had planned to work with his father, we’d recently purchased a beautiful brick home five miles away from his parents, and we had a perfect baby. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
But I didn’t have to ask for more to get it.
When Livvy was six months old—two months shy of our fourth wedding anniversary—I found out I was pregnant again. I had been a little nervous, but Donnie was elated. He wanted a houseful of kids, as did I, only I hadn’t anticipated having them so close. But the more I thought about it, the more I grew to like the idea. They would be best friends. I just knew it.
“Looks like we have two heartbeats,” the ultrasound tech had said with a smile.
Two heartbeats. As in more than one. Not more than one heart inside one body, no…two separate babies. Inside of me. At once. Twins. Could I do it? Of course I could. That only meant I wouldn’t have to be pregnant as many times to fulfill our dreams of having a soccer team in our family.
It was a good thing.
Donnie bought me a van—the exact one I’d been looking at since finding out I was pregnant with Livvy. He’d been doing exceptionally well at work, which meant I didn’t need that part-time job anymore. That was good, because I faced a full-time job at home with Livvy and two babies on the way.
But I was happy. Stressed…but happy.
“I see two hot dogs in there,” the ultrasound tech had exclaimed as we stared at the monitor in front of us.
Hot dogs—the creative terminology the ultrasound technicians at the doctor’s office coined for boys. Two boys. I’d been so in love with my baby girl that the idea of having boys scared me. But Donnie was excited, and eventually, it began to rub off on me.
There I was, twenty-two years old, mother of one baby, and pregnant with two more. I had the house of my dreams, my real life Prince Charming, and even the minivan. I walked the streets of town with my family and kissed my husband goodbye after fixing his tie and tucking it into his suit coat.
I had it all.
But it didn’t take long before I found myself in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the window as my husband drove, watching the scenery pass by. I’d watch as the people that appeared to be my age would laugh and have a good time without the presence of young children pulling on their arms or interrupting their conversations. I wanted to be them. I’d see the small apartments with enough room for one and maybe a cat and I’d wonder what it would be like to live there without the worry of stepping on something sharp on my way to the bathroom at nighttime. I’d notice the young couple that looked as if they were on their first date, and I’d try hard to remember what those butterflies felt like, and I’d fail miserably.
Yes, I had it all.
But I decided to walk away.
The one thing I didn’t think of as I packed my bags that morning was what would happen when I looked back and realized the mistake I had made. What would happen to the life I had when I had decided to come back?
Would I be able to come back?

One

I’d left on a Friday—September twenty-first to be exact. I’d never forget it. The sun had been blazing down, causing the muggy air to stick to my skin and sweat beads to form on my forehead. A frightening contrast to the storm that brewed in my mind.
On a cool, Saturday morning, seven hundred seventy-eight days later, I came back to a very different temperature and with a different temperament. Long gone were the storms that seemed to suffocate me—if only I could protect myself against the other one developing in the distance.

I sat in my car for close to forty-five minutes, doing nothing but watching the house and waiting for some kind of movement. I took in the scenery as I waited, noticing how it all still looked eerily the same as when I’d left. The same drapes hung in the windows, the same pink and purple flowers adorned the boxes beneath the sills, and the same broken mailbox sat cockeyed to the left of the driveway. Nothing had changed in the two years I was gone. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
I hadn’t gone to the door yet. Instead, I remained in my car, sitting across the street and staring at the house that had once been my home. I’d had a fourteen-hour drive to come up with what I wanted to say, yet everything I had practiced and planned no longer seemed good enough.
What do you say to your husband two years after walking out on him?
What do you say to your kids…if they even still remember you?
God, I hoped they would remember me. The twins wouldn’t since they were only sixteen months old when I’d left, but I still had hope that Livvy would. It was a far-reach to expect her to, but at least there was a slim chance, wasn’t there? She might have some vague recollection of me…maybe.
A silver van pulled into the driveway, interrupting my thoughts. I no longer cared if I had the right words—or any words for that matter. I only cared about seeing my family. I opened the car door and stepped out, feet moving on their own in the direction where the familiar brick house stood.
Suddenly, everything looked different. The only way I could describe it is when you go back to your childhood home—with so many memories of the place, it holds that familiarity, yet it’s painstakingly obvious that it’s not yours anymore. That’s how it seemed to me as I approached the house, feeling more like I had been intruding than coming home.
Livvy was the first to jump out of the van—my van. She didn’t even look at me as she ran to the front door, screaming to anyone that would listen that she had to pee. I couldn’t help the smile that covered my face as I watched her take off. Her hair had darkened to a light brown instead of the dirty blond it used to be, and it seemed to have lost its curl. She had grown so much, no longer the chubby toddler from the last time I saw her.
Donnie stepped out and threw her the keys in a soft, underhand toss. They landed in front of her feet. She bent down, picked them up, and when she righted herself, she looked right at me. Even through the distance, I could tell that her hair color hadn’t been the only thing that changed—her eye color had, too. They used to be the brightest blue I had ever seen, lighting up like electricity, but they were no longer that color. Instead, they were darker, although I couldn’t quite tell what shade. It sent a pain through me, wondering if I had been the reason she’d lost the light in her eyes. Was I to blame for dimming the way she saw the world?
I smiled at her through my panicked emotion, waving my shaky hand slowly, yet she didn’t show a hint of recognition on her face. She only stared at me like any kid would stare at a stranger. I knew this because I’d spent two years getting those same looks from every child I passed as I stared at them, trying to find my kids in each and every one of them. They never were, though—they all had mommies that hadn’t abandoned them.
Her notice of me was enough to gain the attention of her father.
Donnie turned and gazed right at me. His face grew hard and cold as his jaw squared and his eyes narrowed—clearly unhappy to see me. His reaction had me frozen in place, unable to move any closer due to the debilitating fear that ran rampant through my body, leaving my limbs numb and heavy. I wanted to say something, do something…anything, but I couldn’t. His fierce gaze had me rooted in place.
Before anything could happen, someone stepped around the front of the van, appearing at Donnie’s side. She lightly touched his arm, glanced at me with an equal mix of shock and confusion, and then whispered something to him that I couldn’t hear. He nodded at her, never taking his eyes from mine, and then she moved around him to the opened side door of the van.
Two little boys tumbled out with her help. The midmorning sun highlighted their hair, making it shine like gold. She walked them inside, holding each of their tiny little hands, never glancing back at me. Not once did the boys realize I had been standing there at the end of their driveway. It was as if I didn’t exist, as if I weren’t there. But that’s what I deserved, I guess.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, slamming the door closed and taking a step closer to me. His face was a mask of anger, resentment, torment. It only grew harder the closer he came to me, and it made my stomach fall to the ground beneath my feet.
He had changed in two years…a lot. His dark hair had grown longer, which allowed the waves to be prominent on his head. He had facial hair. I’d never seen that much hair on his face before, but the dark scruff that lined his jaw made him appear older, more distinguished, and sexy. He wasn’t the boy I’d remembered from before. And then there were his eyes—the midnight blue that always reminded me of the deepest parts of the ocean had turned a hard, cold, almost steely color, flashing anger toward me. The closer he came, the harder his expression had become. His lips drew tighter, and his nostrils flared wider. He was beyond angry with me. Was that hatred flowing from him?
I did this.
I caused this.
I put that look on his face and made him hate me. I had no one to blame but myself, and I had no excuses to give. Nothing could excuse my actions from two years ago, but I had come back to right my wrongs, no matter how long it would take me to do so. I didn’t care how much blood I had to shed or how many dirty looks I had to take, I was going to make it right if it was the last thing I did.
“Why are you here, Edie?” he asked again, his voice becoming harsher and his jaw growing tighter the longer I made him wait for an answer. The muscles in cheeks clenched, flexing against the skin on his face that had been barely visible beneath his short, dark beard. I’d say his patience was thinning, but that would be a lie. There was no patience left in his demeanor, it was long gone.
What did I say to that? Nothing sounded good, nothing would make any of it right, and no matter what I said, nothing would take away the hurt and pain I had caused. It wouldn’t matter if I told him everything right then and there, giving him every detail of every day I had been gone. It wouldn’t change one thing, because the only thing that would make anything better was if I had never left in the first place.
And I couldn’t go back and change that.
“I’m back.” My voice came out in a hoarse whisper, nothing like the determined voice I had planned to use. I wanted to sound strong, ready to fight for my old life and my family, but that’s not what happened. I sounded weak and afraid.
Maybe that’s because I was weak and afraid.
“For how long?” he asked with a sneer.
I deserved that.
“Forever,” I answered, finding a small part of my confidence.
He rolled his eyes and took a step back, shaking his head as he glanced down the street to avoid eye contact with me. His hands were shoved into the front pockets of his jeans and I could tell by the outline in the denim that they were fisted.
I knew this wouldn’t be easy. I knew I wouldn’t knock on his door and he’d open his arms for me. I had been expecting a fight. But it didn’t matter what I knew would happen or what I had expected, living it was worse than any nightmare my mind had created when picturing this day. It would’ve been easy to accept it and run, climb back into my car and take off. But I had done that once already, and I wouldn’t do it again. It hadn’t been easy. It’d been harder than hell. But nothing was harder than coming back, facing the man that you gave up, and watching your child look at you as if you were a stranger.
That hadn’t been easy at all.
“I want to make things right, Donnie,” I professed, fighting back the tears that burned my eyes like fire.
He scoffed and looked to his feet as he answered. “Make things right, Edie?” His eyes flashed to mine, piercing me with the anger that no doubt raged inside of him. “Make things right? You left! You can’t make that right!”
“I can try.” My façade had begun to crack beneath his bitter words.
“Oh yeah? And how do you plan to do that?” he asked in a voice I’d never heard come from him before. It was gruff and rugged, filled with anger and pain. So much pain, but it was hard to hear it through the resentment. “You can’t go back in time, Edie. You can’t go back and make it right. You’re about two fucking years too late.”
It took everything in me to keep the tears that scorched my eyes from surfacing. It was a fight, one that I knew I would lose, but I held them back as much as I could. “I made a mistake. I know this. I just want to make it right.”
“A mistake? That’s how you’re going play this? Edie, packing up your shit, taking half of our savings, and walking away from your family isn’t a mistake. Taking the wrong exit off the interstate is a mistake. Calculating the budget wrong is a mistake. Abandoning your children and husband is not a mistake. That’s deliberate, that’s methodical, that’s…not a mistake.”
One tear broke through and fell, rolling down my face and falling from my chin. Another tear followed. Before I knew it, my vision had blurred from the mass release of tears that flowed from my eyes, cascading down my face, and falling to oblivion, joining my heart and hopes on the concrete below.
“What does this mean? Are you never going to forgive me? Will you ever let me see my kids again?” Fear consumed me at that thought. Even when I left two years ago, I never imagined not seeing them again. My departure from their lives was never meant to be permanent. It was only meant to get my shit straight so that I could be a better mother and wife. As messed up as it sounds, I did it for them. They didn’t deserve to watch me fall further and further into the darkness inside my head.
Donnie laughed bitterly, startling me with the fury that filled it. “Are you fucking kidding me right now, Idelette? You left them. You walked away from them and went MIA for two fucking years. And now you have the balls to ask to see them?”
“They’re my kids, Donnie!” I cried out in desperation. I wasn’t fighting him. I knew he’d win. After what I had done, I didn’t have a leg to stand on and he had all the right in the world to keep them from me. But I had to try at least. That was why I had come back. I needed my kids. I needed my family. I needed my old life, and I was bound and determined to get it all back—Donnie included.
“They haven’t been your kids in two years. No need to start claiming them now,” he growled at me, spun on his heel, and turned around.
My feet had found their momentum, propelling me forward until my hands were wrapped around his forearm, pulling him into me. I buried my head in his chest as I clung to him, smelling his familiar woodsy scent all around me and trying to find the old comfort of his arms. But I never found them. He kept them at his sides as I sobbed into his shirt, feeling the hard contours of his chest beneath my cheek. I could faintly hear the rhythm of his heartbeat, echoing in his chest. It raced erratically, much like mine. But mine was accelerated by fear, his had probably been from adrenaline or hatred…maybe both.
He pulled his arms up, and for a split second, I thought he would return my embrace. Wishful thinking was all that was. Instead of wrapping me in his arms like he had done so many times before, he held on to my shoulders and pushed me away, taking me in with his steely and narrowed eyes.
His eyes used to calm me. One look into those rare, dark blue pools and I’d forget the world. I’d forget all about whatever had plagued me and lose myself in the love that bled from them. But not this time. I didn’t see any love there. I didn’t recognize the look he gave me. It was all so foreign, and nothing like the visions that would dance behind my eyelids every time I’d close them while I had been gone.
His unshaped, dark brown eyebrows pinched together in the center of his forehead as he peered down at me. It almost seemed as if he were fighting himself with something. “It’s over, Edie. It was over when you left. You don’t get to spend a couple of years doing your own thing, and when you need us, come back. That’s not how things work. Next time you want to fall into me and cry, just remember…you’re the one that walked away. Not me.”
I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath enough to respond. I knew that what he’d said had been the truth, but it wasn’t something I wanted to hear. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as coming back home and having everything fall back into place. I’d only hoped that he would at least give me a chance to speak. But after what I’d done to him, leaving him the way I did, I had no reason to hope.
Beth chose to walk back outside at that moment. She moved cautiously to the end of the front walk and stopped at the driveway. It was then that I noticed she was barefoot, which only meant she was comfortable in the house—more comfortable than she’d been before. She stood there without her shoes on and it felt like a knife in my back. She merely glanced at me and then took in the sight of Donnie, dropping her shoulders as he began to walk toward her.
Watching him walk away from me and into the waiting arms of my best friend hurt more than anything. The way her hands gently touched his arms as he approached her, and the way her body shifted into his sent my head spinning and left my stomach knotted. She had been the one person I trusted with everything—hell, I had it in my will that she’d take care of my children if Donnie and I were to die. I guess she’d only been fulfilling my wishes, but that hadn’t been what I’d meant when I made that decision.
She whispered something in his ear and he nodded. Without a backward glance, he walked back inside. Beth followed him, but then turned at the last minute, looking at me with a broken expression that I couldn’t decipher before closing the front door, leaving me outside all alone.
It was what I deserved.
It was what I had once upon a time wanted.
But not anymore.
It was going to be a fight—I knew that much to be true. But I wouldn’t back down. I wouldn’t give up on getting my family back. Donnie needed to see that I was sorry. Beth needed to see that she couldn’t replace me. And my kids needed to see that their mommy loved them, no matter the horrific choices she’d made in the past.
I had been in a bad, dark, lonely place in my life when I left. I wasn’t there anymore. The fog had lifted and the regret cut deep. The loneliness I now felt after being away from my family eclipsed the loneliness I had experienced before. It didn’t even compare.
Pulling myself from the driveway, I trudged back to my car and collapsed against the doorframe with my head in my hands. Crying wasn’t new to me, but this kind was. Before, when I’d cry, it had been out of desperation—out of fear. Now, when I cried, it was out of remorse. Guilt. Shame. But I wouldn’t let that deter me. I had allowed my emotions to run my life once before… I would be dammed to allow that to happen again.
After a deep breath, I sobered my emotions and took a look around at the neighborhood that had once been mine. The house in front of me held so many memories, but the biggest one of all was from the day I walked away. I had made so many bad decisions, so many bad choices, and none of them I could ever take back, but I could take responsibility for them and ask for forgiveness. Donnie wasn’t ready to listen to me, but I could try with the woman I had left my children with as I ran away.
Fear consumed me with every step I took toward the front door. I didn’t assume she would be happy to see me. After what I did to her, I knew she’d have her opinion and I had to accept it. I only hoped she would give me a chance to ask for forgiveness, and maybe hear me out as I explained my situation.
But I never got the chance to do any of that because no one answered the door. And when I looked through the window at the front of the house, I realized why. The house sat empty. But as I turned around, feeling as though all hope of reconciliation had vanished, I noticed a small realtor’s sign sitting to the side of the driveway. I didn’t know what that meant for the Millers, but I knew I couldn’t give up on my quest for forgiveness.
I jotted the number down after climbing into my car and then drove mindlessly back to the hotel room I’d stumbled into at two in the morning. I curled up on the bed and allowed myself one more moment of weakness, knowing that once I got up, I would be a new person. I would stop at nothing to get my family back. All I needed was a nap to help ease the pain that ran through me. The day was still young, and if I allowed myself a few hours to sleep, I could get back up and finish out the day stronger—more determined.
I cried myself to sleep, seeing the images of Livvy’s blank stare as she saw me standing in front of her, and the hatred from Donnie’s eyes. I saw the expression on Beth’s face as she comforted my husband, and the look she sent me before shutting me out.
It cut me deep and I fell asleep, bleeding it all out.

Leddy Harper had to use her imagination often as a child. She grew up the only girl in a house full of boys. At the age of fourteen, she decided to use that imagination and wrote her first book, and never stopped. She often calls writing her therapy, using it as a way to deal with issues through the eyes of her characters.

She is now a mother of three girls, leaving her husband as the only man in a house full of females. The decision to publish her first book was made as a way of showing her children to go after whatever it is they want to. Love what you do and do it well. And to teach them what it means to overcome their fears.


7/28/15

COVER + BLURB REVEAL: LOVE BURNS BY MANDI BECK!!!

Title: Love Burns
Author: Mandi Beck
Series: Book #2 Caged Love Series
Release Date: Sep 21, 2015!!

SYNOPSIS:
Love.
It’s my name. It’s what I fight for. It’s Frankie.
I’m a fighter. Trained to always keep my cover. To anticipate, see the next hit coming. I never expected her past to come at us swinging like it has.
I’m about to take on two of the most important fights of my life. My girl and the belt. I know that I can handle it. That I’ll never stop fighting. But, what do you do when your life, your love is threatened and you can't take the hits – she has to? You shut your eyes and fucking pray like hell that she’s strong enough, fierce enough to come out on top.
I went to war for her. Now it's her turn.

Mandi Beck has been an avid reader all of her life. A deep love for books always had her jotting down little stories on napkins, notebooks, and her hand. As an adult she was further submerged into the book world through book clubs and the epicness of social media. It was then that she graduated to writing her stories on her phone and then finally on a proper computer.

A nursing student, mother to two rambunctious and somewhat rotten boys, and stepmom to two great girls away at college, she shares her time with her husband in Chicago where she was born and raised. Mandi is a diehard hockey fan and blames the Blackhawks when her deadlines are not met.

Love Hurts is her debut novel and she is currently working on the next in the series along with whatever other voices are clamoring for attention in her mind.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

7/25/15

REVIEW: THE BOURBON KINGS BY J.R. WARD!!!!

Title: The Bourbon Kings
Author: J.R. Ward
Release Date: JULY 28, 2015!!

SYNOPSIS:
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal....
For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.
For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.
As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.
PURCHASE HERE:
The Bourbon Kings reads very much like a decadent Southern soap opera, with interconnecting storylines playing out separately and converging at pivotal moments, introducing a large cast of characters, each with their own dramas playing out within the confines of The Bradford Bourbon Company. The story follows the Baldwine/Bradford family, a disgustingly wealthy bunch who have run a successful Bourbon production company out of Charlemont, Kentucky for generations. But inside the opulent Bradford Family Estate, beneath the facade of family heirlooms and priceless jewels and ostentatious luncheons, lies, secrets, scandal and tragedy reside. Family rivalry, infidelity, heartbreak, greed and lust all converge against the posh backdrop of the grandiose Easterly estate to make The Bourbon Kings one captivating read I found myself completely lost in. JR Ward crafts a wicked web of deceit and drama that consumed me from the very first page.

The Bourbon Kings follows a cast of characters that immediately pulled me in and consumed me with their stories, their pain, their reality of life behind the wrought iron gates of this bourbon empire. The ties that bind this family are more like shackles, holding them prisoner to obligation, to their secrets, to public perception, to an evil patriarch. At the core of this story so fraught with familial drama and scandal, is a love story. There are many storylines intersecting and converging within these pages, but in the middle of all of it is this perfectly imperfect romance between Lizzie King and Tulane Baldwine. The forbidden nature of their relationship, their heartbreaking past and the uncertainty of their future made the dynamic between Lane and Lizzie one I was most intrigued by.

When the opulent mansion rapidly becomes a precarious house of cards, like any inevitable car crash, I couldn't look away. Tragedy and heartbreak and mystery lay the groundwork for what I could only assume was the beginning of the downfall of an empire. It was unpredictable, it was uncertain, it was intriguing, it was brutally painful... and I was consumed. So much transpires within these pages and I couldn't decide what I craved more... to see how it would all end, or for time to slow down so it wouldn't end at all. Fortunately for me, The Bourbon Kings is just the beginning of what I hope will be a long series because there's so much left unsaid for all of these characters.

This was my very first JR Ward book. I've heard so many readers go on and on about their love for her other series, but I went into The Bourbon Kings with no expectations or assumptions on Ward's writing style, how she lays out a story or cultivates a plot. What I came away with was the opinion that JR Ward can paint a picture like an artist paints a landscape... detailed and precise and so glorious it can take your breath away. Ward crafts these characters, this setting, this drama, their dialogue, every single thing and molds it all together exquisitely. If this storyline were a show, I'd watch it repeatedly just to see and hear and feel all the things again and again. I had no idea how badly I needed to read a story like this one. It was a complete change of pace, like nothing I've read lately, maybe in years. It's a family drama but so so so much more. The romances of each of the Baldwine children stood out in this book but none of them are linear, perfectly wrapped up relationships. They are messy, heartbreaking, tragic in very different ways and I couldn't get enough. I can not wait to see what's in store for this fascinating family as this epic series continues.

Jessica's Rating:


J.R. Ward is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. She lives in the South her family.

7/22/15

JESSICA'S REVIEW: EXPOSED BY BRIGHTON WALSH!

Title: Exposed
Author: Brighton Walsh
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW!

SYNOPSIS:
In this sexy, suspenseful New Adult novel, a young woman hiding from her criminal past is taken captive by her ex-boyfriend, the ultimate bad boy.
Evie is about to embark on the perfect life. Beautiful, poised, and engaged to a rising business star, she fits the part of trophy wife perfectly, except for one thing: her entire identity is a lie.
Five years ago she created a new identity for herself, but it all crashes back when something she witnessed years ago comes back to haunt her. Now she's in danger of losing more than her social status.
Determined to protect the careful life she's built for herself, Evie doesn't want anything to do with Riley, the criminal for hire who broke her heart years ago. But Riley has other ideas. He's never forgotten Evie, and to protect her, he steals her away. Hidden from the world, sparks begin to fly as old memories resurface and their passion reignites.
PURCHASE HERE:
 Exposed is veiled in mystery and intrigue right out of the gate. It's not often a story literally grabs you from the very first page. Brighton Walsh just did it though, pulling me in and demanding my full attention immediately. I'm a huge fan of this author's writing, but within those brilliantly placed words is an intriguing story that needed to be peeled back layer by layer, exposed. Who is Evie and why is she hiding?

Where Captive had introduced Gage "Ghost," as the dangerous captor who kidnaps unknowing, vulnerable Madison for reasons unknown, Exposed changes things up. Riley is Gage's younger brother and they're in the same line of work, doing not so legal jobs at a high price and trying to keep their hands as clean as they can. When Riley gets the call to go nab Genevieve, the reader has no idea who these characters actually were to each other 5 years prior. As the story unfolds, it's clear that Evie is not another Madison... she can hold her own, fight her own fights, and when Riley pushes, she pushes right back. This isn't just another story of a dangerous captor and a naive, weak heroine. There's nothing weak about Evie, she's pretty badass actually. And if anyone is a little vulnerable and raw, it's Riley, with his never quite healed broken heart he's been living with since he thought his Evie had died.

Five years have passed with Evie being in hiding, Riley believing her dead, and no answers as to why. What's clear, however, is the scorching hot sexual tension brimming between them, the evident longing even though the two are so stubborn and reluctant to admit it. Instead, their longing is masked beneath snarky, sarcastic digs at the other and underhanded banter whipping back and forth. I loved that...loved the push and pull, the mystery, the obvious desire and romance woven throughout a suspenseful story fraught with danger and mystery.

This story takes sexy up several notches from previous Brighton Walsh books. The chemistry and heat between Riley and Evie is off the charts. While everything seems uncertain, secrets and lies make a happy ending seem far out of reach, the physical nature of this relationship is the one thing they get right. It's hot...so so hot.

I swear Brighton Walsh's writing gets better and better with each new release. She tackles some intense material in this book, allowing Evie to tell her painful story in a way that feels very honest and authentic. Layered beyond that story line is the complex, suspense-driven aspect of why Evie is hiding and who she's running from. The gravity of the history Evie and Riley shared, all that was between them and all that was lost when she disappeared, all of it culminates with the danger lurking outside and Evie's demons coming back to haunt her to make this one seriously consuming story. So much is happening within these pages, so much meaty layers juxtapose together to make these characters who they are. This story is intense in moments, frightening in others, and always sexy. This angsty romance captivated me from the very start and never let up. With Exposed comes my certainty that Brighton Walsh is an author everyone needs to be reading.

Jessica's Rating:

 Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with writing. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children.

7/21/15

REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: RACING THE SUN BY KARINA HALLE!

Title: Racing the Sun
Author: Karina Halle
Release Date: JULY 28, 2015!!

SYNOPSIS:
From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Where Sea Meets Sky comes a new adult novel about a young woman who becomes a nanny in Capri and falls for her charges’ bad-boy brother.
It’s time for twenty-four-year-old Amber MacLean to face the music. After a frivolous six months of backpacking through New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, she finds herself broke on the Mediterranean without enough money for a plane ticket home to California. There are worse places to be stuck than the gorgeous coastline of southern Italy, but the only job she manages to secure involves teaching English to two of the brattiest children she’s ever met.
It doesn’t help that the children are under the care of their brooding older brother, Italian ex-motorcycle racer Desiderio Larosa. Darkly handsome and oh-so-mysterious, Derio tests Amber’s patience and will at every turn—not to mention her hormones.
But when her position as teacher turns into one as full-time nanny at the crumbling old villa, Amber finds herself growing closer to the enigmatic recluse and soon has to choose between the safety of her life back in the States and the uncertainty of Derio’s closely guarded heart.
PURCHASE HERE:
Of all the stories from all the genres I've read by Karina Halle, there's none I love more than when she takes us on a journey of the heart across the globe through stunningly beautiful foreign lands. Falling in love with her characters is an adventure in and of itself, but Halle ensures the reader falls in love with travel, with other countries, with the tastes and smells and heat of a beautiful space just as much. Racing the Sun takes us, along with Amber MacLean, to Capri, Italy, a rock in the middle of the sea where she finds herself thrust into the home and life of Desiderio Larosa, a sexy but troubled Italian man raising his young twin siblings. Amber set out to escape her overbearing parents, to find herself and to see the world... what she didn't count on was having her's tipped upside down by this family, this country, and most importantly, this man.

Every time I read a Karina Halle story that takes place in a foreign country that I'll likely never visit myself, I find myself stopping every few pages to Google the locations she so eloquently illustrates with her words. Her stories awaken a hunger in me to see those glorious views with my own eyes, even if it's just through someone else's snapshot. Not only does it give me a concrete backdrop to imagine these beautiful characters falling in love against, but it confirms for me every single time how superbly Karina Halle paints a picture with her words. Her descriptions are souvenirs, hand delivered to the readers that will never see Italy or New Zealand or Spain themselves, but can feel like they've touched a piece of it through Halle's exquisite words. She illustrates the majesty of Italy in these pages, but more importantly, I think, she captures raw emotion. The gravity of falling in love, of blind fury and anger, brutal heartbreak and longing, empathy and sadness. She delivers every emotion so starkly, it's impossible not to feel consumed within these pages. I'm such a huge fan of her writing style because she consistently delivers a layered, well developed plot, but she does it so effortlessly. It's never overly wordy, overly metaphorical, or fraught with overused word choices. She writes like an artist paints.

I'm a huge fan of everything this author dishes out, but I have to admit that there's something extra delicious about the kind of romance I can just sink right down inside of. I love the suspense and the thrill that comes along with some of her other books, but I have to admit that I crave the sweet, sexy, angst-ridden contemporary romances like this one most often. Racing the Sun has such a different vibe than Halle's previous travel-romances. This book feels almost gothic in a way, with the story evolving in a mysterious, somewhat spooky villa on Capri. The tenants are orphans with secrets, their old nanny disappears without a trace, the children are at first wicked and mischievous, the man of the house is a brooding loner keeping doors locked and secrets caged. It feels creepy despite the grandeur of the cliffs, the beauty of the beaches, the serenity of the landscape. In this emotionally abandoned house where the landscaping has been ignored and the mysteries of the past are locked tight within the walls and it's inhabitants, the story takes on a somber, ominous tone. It's addictive and mysterious and completely unpredictable.

Racing the Sun is very much a story about conquering fears, chasing dreams and falling in love. This story is a journey of two beautifully layered characters, two lost souls, finding themselves and finding each other amidst an array of tragic circumstances. There's a realness about this story, a believability that is often lacking within contemporary romance. This road isn't easy, but it's an honest one. The characters aren't perfect, they're flawed and they do and say the wrong things, they make mistakes. Halle perfectly captures the monotony and the emotionally and physically taxing reality of child rearing, especially when one person is essentially going it alone without the emotional support and understanding of a partner. Unsurprisingly, the reality of the romance between Amber and Derio is also perfectly imperfect, something Halle nails consistently. I love getting lost in fiction, in a sugary, flowery romance... but I much prefer an authentic plot with real characters navigating an imperfect path and Racing the Sun is precisely that. From start to finish, I loved everything about this story. Halle delivers a passionate, sensual, heartbreaking romance against the backdrop of stunning, sultry Capri in Racing the Sun and I could not put it down. 

Jessica's Rating:


Karina Halle is the New York Times bestselling author of Where Sea Meets Sky, The Pact, Love in English, and other wild and romantic reads. A former travel writer and music journalist, she lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails, and devours a lot of books.


a Rafflecopter giveaway



BONUS SCENE: VERITE BY RACHEL BLAUFELD!!

Title: Vérité 
Author: Rachel Blaufeld
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW!!

SYNOPSIS:
That’s me—Tingly Simmons—athlete, foreign-language major, professor lover, obsessed idiot girl. Definitely not a frat rat or sorority slut. I’ve never even played beer pong.
I ditched the vapid, soulless high-society life of Los Angeles for the promise of something more meaningful in rural Ohio. Accepting a track scholarship for college, I tried running my way to happiness, but instead I ended up sleeping with my French professor and falling head over heels for him.
When that relationship fell apart, so did I.
Barely hanging on by a thread and using the most absurd coping skills, I was determined to hide behind my past indiscretions. That was, until I met Tiberius Jones. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d learn the truth about love from a six-foot-five basketball player.
PURCHASE HERE:
“How about we settle this on the court?” I blurted. “Why don’t we have a free-throw contest and I’ll show you all who the real pussies are?”

Jamel winked at me. “You calling me a pussy, fresh boy?”

I winked back. “Nah, not me. I would never do that, Mel.”

[PB1] “I’m in,” Trey announced. “We’ll do that shit tomorrow. Tonight’s all about having fun and shit. I got a bottle of JD with my name on it, and box of condoms with Cherry’s on it. But I’ll share a few of them with you, roomie.”

The big fucker, still with a guilty smirk plastered on his face, was taunting me. It’s not like I didn’t know it would happen. At prep school, it was a little easier to control the gossip and taunting because it was an all-boys joint. Of course, I’d had a few of the ball babies suck me off, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

When I sank myself deep inside a woman, I wanted it to mean something. I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted with my woman, make her feel good, let her do the same to me, and know it meant shit.

“Fuck,” I muttered as Trey’s words rang in my ear.

The townhouse we shared tended to get all kinds of rowdy when his girl, Cherry, came up from Cleveland, especially when other ladies stopped by looking for Trey. Cherry wasn’t exactly the sharing type, and things had gotten ugly. It had happened at least twice in the last month. All of a sudden, I was looking forward to my first study hour with the other sports babies, mandatory for first-year athletes at Hafton.

“Cocksucker,” Jamel spat out at Lamar.

His harsh tone knocked me out of my thoughts, and I turned to face him. “What now?”

Jamel glared at our teammate. “Lamar, do not call the girls’ team. Just don’t fucking do it.”

“Why? You got a thing for ballers and not ball babies?” Lamar bared his white teeth into a shit-eating grin.

“Shut the fuck up!” Jamel shouted.

I stifled a grin. At least the pressure was off me and whether I needed to get laid.

Shoving a bite of pasta in my mouth, I watched and waited for Jamel to toss on his Beats headphones. It was his classic move when things weren’t going his way and he wanted to tune everyone out. I’d seen him do it a dozen times.

“You do!” Trey squealed like a teenage girl. “You like a girl baller, Mel? Who? Let’s see, there’s Cheyenne, Tiffanie, Stacy, Puffins—what’s her real name?”

“Tanya.”

“Damn, Lamar, why the fuck do they call her Puffins?” I made the mistake of asking.

“Oh, she does this little puffing thing with her cheeks when she’s running, and they say she does the same when she’s got a dick in her—”

“Okay, enough,” I interrupted.

Lamar chuckled. “We making you blush like a good boy?”

Exasperated, I went back to my pasta. I don’t even know why I had to start with Lamar on that one. It was none of my business.

Trey narrowed his eyes on Jamel, considering. “Chey’s too big to be your type, Stacy’s too serious, Puffin’s too skanky—even for you. It’s gotta be Tiff. Definitely Tiffanie,” he stated with conviction.

And there they went. Jamel secured the bright green Dr. Dre Beats over his ears and started nodding his bald head to the beat, taking the occasional slug of his Gatorade with venom in his eyes.

Trey slid his gaze to me. “Maybe Puffins be good for you, Ty?” Since Jamel was ignoring him, apparently that left me to torment.

And I’m pretty sure I threw up in my mouth a little bit at the mention of Puffins and my dick.


Rachel Blaufeld is a social worker/entrepreneur/blogger turned author. Fearless about sharing her opinion, Rachel captured the ear of stay-at-home and working moms on her blog, BacknGrooveMom, chronicling her adventures in parenting tweens and inventing a product, often at the same time. She has also blogged for The Huffington Post, Modern Mom, and StartupNation.

Turning her focus on her sometimes wild-and-crazy creative side, it only took Rachel two decades to do exactly what she wanted to do—write a fiction novel. Now she spends way too many hours in local coffee shops plotting her ideas. Her tales may all come with a side of angst and naughtiness, but end lusciously.

Rachel lives around the corner from her childhood home in Pennsylvania with her family and two dogs. Her obsessions include running, coffee, icing-filled doughnuts, antiheroes, and mighty fine epilogues.


7/18/15

REVIEW + EXCERPT + GIVEAWAY: KING OF HEARTS BY L.H. COSWAY!!

Title: King of Hearts
Author: L.H. Cosway
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW!

SYNOPSIS:
Welcome to the City, London’s most prestigious square mile, where finance reigns and Oliver King is a rising prince.
I used to rule the world.
There might be wolves on Wall Street, but there were crocodiles in Canary Wharf. Some of us craved money. Some of us craved power.
I liked money, and power had its advantages, but what I really wanted was to excel, to surpass the men who came before me. I never cared much for love and romance until I met Alexis.
I could feel it the very moment she walked into the interview, with her outspoken charm and vivacious personality. She cast all the others in shadow, made me laugh when life held no humour. Our friendship should have remained professional, but it wasn’t long before the lines started to blur.
You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? Well, I never foresaw where my plans would lead, and only in my darkest hour did I finally see the light…
You can have all the money and prestige in the world and still be the poorest man alive. And love, well, I hate to use a tired old cliché, but love can be the thing that truly sets you free.
When I think of LH Cosway, I immediately think of quirky, eccentric characters and an outside-the-box plot. Cosway consistently crafts such unbelievably well-developed characters and sets them inside the most fantastical, layered circumstances and she makes me just want to sink right down inside her stories and never come out. King of Hearts felt different... oh, believe me, I still felt like I wanted to wrap myself up in this story and never come out of it. I fell in love with these characters immediately, with their story and I was so consumed with where this would all go that I couldn't think of anything else. But Oliver King and Alexis Clark didn't feel so odd to me, they didn't feel so eccentric... or maybe they did and LH Cosway just exceeded my expectations by making them feel very real in all of their peculiarity. Oliver King is a successful businessman but he's also a gifted pianist and he comes from a family with tightly locked up secrets. Alexis Clark is his new assistant and everything from her fashion sense to her innate curiosity to every hilariously unexpected word that comes out of her mouth makes her a character the likes of which I've never read before. These characters might not be strange and different in the traditional LH Cosway sense of the word, but  they are refreshing, they are original and they're fraught with interesting, magnetic personalities demanding that I loved them more than I ever expected to love two characters when I opened this book.

Oliver King was first introduced in Hearts of Fire as the drunkard brother of the circus owner who obviously had a story to tell. As that story unfolded it became clear that King was a classic case of "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," but one could only speculate on what his life must have been like before he became the belligerent, homeless ghost of a man following the circus. The biggest question in that book was what on earth had happened to Oliver King? What caused the catastrophic downfall of such an enigmatic man? When King of Hearts opens, and all through the first half of the book, it's still impossible to fathom how this charming, sexy, powerful, successful businessman went from being the Oliver King he once was to the King he's come to be.

This story is told in two parts... the before and the after. The 'before' takes place six years prior to the events in Hearts of Fire, giving us the entire backstory of who Oliver King was before his world crashed down around him. When I read Hearts of Fire, King was barely on my radar, as I'd been so consumed with the story of Lille and Jack. I thought King was a nuisance, really. I barely connected with him, with his drunken, belligerent behavior, hurting himself and in the process tearing others down with him. I didn't know him or understand him until now. The journey through the before and after in King of Hearts just made Oliver King my most beloved Cosway character yet.

King of Hearts is aptly named because this character completely owned my heart from beginning to end. I fell in love with Oliver King, the powerhouse with the world at his fingertips who played chess with his alluring assistant in his opulent bathroom, and I fell in love with the Oliver King who had nothing but dirty clothes and greasy hair and an alcohol addiction. I fell in love with Alexis Clark, this confident, quirky, smart, self-assured woman who captivated me with her story from the first page. I loved how real she is, how authentic and honest both of these characters were, but more, how fantastic they are together. The chemistry between these characters was edible, if that's even a thing, whatever, I'm making it one. I wanted to sink my teeth into this storyline, these characters, this perfectly paced course of events, there's just no better way to describe it. Cosway plotted out this story so exquisitely, building and building and building the connection, the attraction, the sexual tension, drawing me in so completely that there was no finding my way out. I'm still not out. My thoughts and my heart are still in that book and I doubt I'll find my way out anytime soon.

I love a good office romance. I love a friends to lovers romance. I love angst and sexual tension and a decadent slow burn. I love second chances. I love plot twists that feel believable and consistent with the rest of the story. I love raw, tangible emotion and fantastic writing. I love a meaty, layered plot and characters that consume me. I love authentic dialogue and witty banter. I love and appreciate stories that step outside the box and don't follow the mundane formula of everything else out there. I love everything about King of Hearts and I love every single word, every sentence, every miniscule detail, every choice LH Cosway made in executing this perfectly unforgettable story.

Jessica's Rating:

What he said made me curious, so I went on, “What do you do to deal with the stress?”

He gave me a wan smile, and there was something in his expression that struck me as sad somehow. Rubbing at his chin, he answered, “Hmmm, when I’m stressed out…a nice glass of top shelf whiskey usually does the trick.”

“That makes sense,” I said and walked around his desk before taking a seat in front of him. “You know, I always thought it was poor people who did drugs, to escape the bleakness of their realities. Now I’m thinking maybe the practice is most common at the top and the bottom of the ladder. Perhaps the best place to be is somewhere in the middle.”

“Not necessarily. I’m at the top. Do I look high to you?”

The deadpan way in which he said it made me laugh. I leaned forward and teased, “I’m not sure. Let me have a look at your pupils.” Surprising me, King rose from his seat, walked around his desk and came to kneel in front of me. Before I knew it his face was mere inches from mine.

“Go ahead,” he said, voice low.

Whoa, Oliver King’s face right up close…I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I guess he didn’t realise the effect he had on this very non-gay lady, because he seemed entirely unselfconscious. His eyes were beautiful, his lashes long and golden, his skin smooth with a hint of stubble around his jaw, and his lips were just…I had no words. Sculpted and masculine was probably the only way I could think to describe them.

I realised I was staring at those lips a little too closely when my eyes flicked back to his. A moment ago he was smiling, but now that smile was transforming into a thoughtful frown.

I cleared my throat. “Your pupils look fine.”

King exhaled a small breath and I watched as his attention went from my eyes to my cheeks, nose, chin, and then finally to my lips. He looked like he was about to say something when suddenly Gillian’s voice filled the room.

“Mr King, Jenson Gellar is on the phone. Shall I put him through?”

L.H. Cosway has a BA in English Literature and Greek and Roman Civilisation, and an MA in Postcolonial Literature. She lives in Dublin city. Her inspiration to write comes from music. Her favourite things in life include writing stories, vintage clothing, dark cabaret music, food, musical comedy, and of course, books.

She thinks that imperfect people are the most interesting kind. They tell the best stories.



L.H. Cosway KING OF HEARTS Release Week Event

7/15/15

EXCERPT + GIVEAWAY: THE SHADOW BY B.L. MOONEY & LAURA EMORY!!

Title: Shadow
Author: B.L. Mooney & Laura Emory
Release Date: JULY 15, 2015!!

SYNOPSIS:
I should be dead. I definitely shouldn’t be chasing the type of killers who ruined my life, but that’s what I do.
My mother was murdered when I was six years old and instead of running for help, I hid in the closet. Until the killer is found, I’m an unfinished job forced to look over my shoulder.
I’m Special Agent Brynn Bennett with the FBI, and I’m damn good at my job. My best friend and partner, Hunter Williams, and I track predators every day. It isn’t a job for little girls who hide in closets, but with Hunter by my side, there’s nothing I can’t face.
What I didn’t see coming was Benjamin Drake. He was next in line for the one-night stand I occasionally allowed myself, except he wants a happily ever after and he thinks I can give it to him.
I can handle death, monsters, and the evils that hide in the shadows, but a nice guy who wants to take care of me? I’m not so sure.
The better question is . . .
Can he handle me?
PRE-ORDER:
I take one last look to make sure my makeup is perfect and everything is in place as I hear the knock on the door. I nod to myself in the mirror. “You’ve got this.”

Shaking my head at my pathetic pep talk, I head for the door, but I don’t expect what I see once I open it. Ben is standing there with a couple of bags in his hands, but it’s the outfit that has me speechless. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, too. I can’t decide if he looks better casual or in a suit. They both make me want to rip his clothes off.

He clears his throat on my second trip down his body. “May I come in?”

Embarrassed I got caught looking at him so closely, I put my fingers to my forehead. “I’m sorry.” I look at him again and tilt my head. “I thought we were going out.”

“That was the original plan.” He shrugs and adjusts the bags. “Then I wondered why go out when all I could think about was taking you home.”

I look down his body that’s filling my doorway and back up to those lips I couldn’t get out of my mind the first night I met him. I probably would spend the entire evening trying to get him to take me home. I back up. “Please, come in.”

“I hope you like takeout.”

I shut the door behind him. “Yes, of course. I don’t cook a lot for myself.”

I walk over to the table where he set the bags, but before I’m able to look in them, he grabs me by the waist, pulls me close, and kisses me. Who needs dinner?

He kisses my neck and works his way up to my ear to whisper, “I brought dinner. You supply dessert.”

I’m breathless and can’t find my voice, but manage to whisper back, “Let’s see this dinner first.”

His eyebrows rise slightly, and even though he isn’t fully smiling, I can tell he’s amused by the crinkles next to his eyes. “You doubt my . . . dinner?”

How I find my voice is a mystery to me, but I do. “I’m a prove it kind of girl.”

His smile tells me he has no doubt proving it whenever I want. I want it now.


B.L. Mooney 

Laura Emory 



a Rafflecopter giveaway

7/14/15

EXCERPT: SACRIFICE BY ADRIANA LOCKE!!!

Title: Sacrifice
Author: Adriana Locke
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW!!!

SYNOPSIS:
My life changed forever the night my husband died.
I was left with a shattered heart, a heap of bills, and our daughter, EVERLEIGH. I don’t want to rely on anyone, least of all CREW GENTRY. He’s my first love and the man who almost destroyed me, the man who has let me down every time I’ve needed him.
But when tragedy strikes a second time, Crew just might be my only hope.
My life changed forever the night my brother died.
I was left with a guilty conscience, a pile of mistakes, and little else. I take care of JULIA GENTRY, my brother’s widow and the love of my life, and their daughter. I know she doesn’t want my help, but she gets it anyway. I owe her that.
When another disaster hits, I’m given the opportunity to make things right. I’m taking it. I'm willing to sacrifice it all.
I grab a jar of pasta sauce and focus on dinner. I jump at the sound of someone banging on the door. I walk to the curtain and peek outside. I’m not at all surprised at what I see. Or whom.

His hands are stuck in the front pockets of his jeans, his Carhartt hanging open. A white thermal shirt is stretched down the length of his torso. His shoulders are hunched over as he scans the area, taking everything in.

With a heavy sigh, I twist the lock and open the door. “What?” I ask, one hand on my hip.

His face is solemn, his eyes hesitant. I know this day is as hard for him as it is for me, but it should be. He’s the reason we are both miserable. But as much as I want to slam the door in his face, I don’t.

“Can I come in?” He shoves his hands deeper into his pockets.

“Why?”

He looks at me and holds my gaze. I feel my throat burn. I roll my eyes, lest he see my moment of sympathy, and head to the kitchen. I leave the door open behind me. When I hear it close, I don’t look back, not sure if he’s followed me inside or took off. And I don’t really know which I prefer.

I head to the stove and grab the pasta and strain it.

“You all right?”

I shrug but keep my back to him. “Am I supposed to be?”

A chair is pulled back and the coins in his pocket jingle as he sits down. “I just ... I wanted to check on ya today.”

“Well, I’m fine. Making dinner, as you can see.”

“Didn’t you see I called?”

“I did.”

“Why didn’t you answer?”

I set the spoon down and close my eyes for a minute. I’ve avoided this conversation like the plague all day, a situation I don’t want to think about, never mind discuss. A situation I’m in because of him. And here he sits, not taking the hint, showing up at my house even though I’m obviously not taking his calls and forcing me to discuss it. Fuck him. “Because I don’t really have anything to say to ya, Crew. Another year has gone by without Gage. Thank you for that.”

He looks at the floor and suddenly I feel terrible. He closes his eyes, wincing as my words, filled with such poison, hit him full on. Any other day and he would’ve just spouted off something back. He would’ve smirked, said something cocky, and walked out. But today’s not just any other day.

“Crew—”

“Nah, Jules. Don’t apologize.”

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I said not to apologize.” He’s watching me carefully, his eyes somber. He’s apologized to me so many times and I’ve never accepted it. Now he won’t accept mine. Not sure what to do, I turn back to the stove. I fiddle with the knob, trying to get it back in place while feeling his eyes on me.

“Remember when I talked him into surfing with me on the 4th of July that year?” His voice is soft and if I wasn’t listening for it, I might not have even heard it. “And he swore a shark was circling his board?”

I nod. I remember that day. Gage was standing on his board, shouting at Crew to get out of the water. Crew just sat on his and laughed and then paddled to Gage and they floated in together. Later, we had a bonfire on the beach. We told stories over marshmallows until the sun nearly came back up again.

I feel wetness touch my eyes and I bat my eyelashes to try to keep the tears from falling.

“Damn it, Julia. I’m so sorry. If I could switch places with him, I would.”

I turn to look at him and he’s watching me, the same pain that’s downright killing me inside is also written all over his face. It’s enough to send the tears down my cheeks, hot against my skin.

We look at each other and something sweeps across his face. It’s a look of resolution, I think, like he’s just decided something. All I know is that for the first time since the funeral, he reaches for me.
Adriana Locke lives and breathes books. After years of slightly obsessive relationships with the flawed bad boys created by other authors, Adriana has created her own.

Adriana resides in the Midwest with her family. She spends a large amount of time playing with her kids, drinking coffee, and cooking. She loves to be outside in the sunshine and always has a piece of candy in her pocket. 

Her first novel, The Exception, was released in 2014. The followup, The Perception, was released in March 2015. Both books follow the same characters, but can be read as standalone novels.
Sacrifice, a novel unrelated to the others, will go live on July 13, 2015.

Please contact Adriana at www.adrianalocke.com. She loves to hear from readers.